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Conversion from Byzantium: From Neoplatonism to the Cultural Politics of the Enlightenment

This presentation will explore first how Byzantine intellectuals re-articulated Platonic philosophy to explain the ontological effects of conversion to Christianity and then how early-modern historians and thinkers interpreted the Byzantine sources in the new cultural setting of the Enlightenment and the Reformation. In past studies on conversion to Byzantine Christianity, scholars have returned to Antiquity mainly to explore the political effects of conversion, and regional historians in particular have appropriated the conversion episodes of royal elites to depict them as national events. In contrast, I will return to the royal conversions of Armenia and Bulgaria as case studies on the basis of which I will show the Neoplatonic undercurrents in the Byzantine accounts. Once I explain the original ancient and medieval views whose focus was philosophical and theological, I will reveal what cultural boundaries and ways of political legitimizing the Byzantine conversion narratives produced in the Post-Reformation period and what their implications are for current discussions on Christian ecumenicity and socioanthropological theories on secularism.

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